craigslist and sea stories

It was the tone of the ad on craigslist that caught my wife’s attention. We were looking for a used filing cabinet for our business and personal files.

“Text or call”, the ad said. “I don’t do email”.

It said to contact the seller between “0800 and 2200, that’s between 8 AM and 10PM for you landlubbers”. The number was phonetically spelled to frustrate scammers and telemarketers. The ad continued that the seller did not want payment in anything other than cash. When I read the ad on craigslist, I “knew” this was another old Salt.

In the manner of two old shipmates, though meeting for the first time, it was typical Navy. He challenged, “You got your shots?” (Meaning of course, the COVID vaccine.)

I replied. “Which ones? Hepatitis? Anthrax, Cholera, Typhoid? – I’m a Sailor- had ’em all”

Laughing, he retorts, “No the one that hurts like hell!” The mystical shot with square needle story, I winked knowingly.

His wife gave the two old Salts a smile and went inside the house. “She’s heard it all before”, he chuckled. We swapped stories on the places and ships we had both seen. And that was thirty minutes after we traded greenbacks for the cabinet we put in my SUV. And that is no bull**. (Comments edited for you landlubbers out there.)

Ask the Chief: bilingual comprehension

My late mother, an Naturalized (immigrant) citizen of the United States, graduated from the Mount Sinai Nursing School and was an RN most of her adult life. Pursuing a lifelong interest in literature, she earned a Masters degree and in her second career, was a junior college English teacher. Her most cherished students were often not the native-born, but the ones who had emigrated to the United States from places English was not the native tongue. These immigrants were “all-in”, that is totally committed to not just speak the language but have comprehension, which would enable them to be successful at work and fully-appreciated citizens in the community.

That was forty years ago and while the same issues over immigration, national identity, and common language existed then as today, there was far less accommodation then for non-English speakers in the community. Today, there are many government services from schools, courts, county and state offices that serve communities where residents primary language may be Spanish, Tagalog, or Arabic. The United States remains a melting pot of cultures and immigrants from all over the world, though in some states Spanish is the largest language group next to English. Yet employment in professions that require Federal and State certification, licensing, or as college graduates, often require a competence in English first and bilingual as a supporting skill. This has been a continuing issue with secondary (high school) education nationally for decades. People are looking to enter the workforce with poor grammar, and poor reading comprehension. Business writing, reading standard government forms and test instructions are often poorly understood and done incorrectly.

College placement tests bear this out, and offerings of remedial writing classes in community colleges, universities and private for-profit institutions testify to substandard high school standards. For both immigrants from non-English speaking places and native-born, the aspiration to be successful in a profession drives performance. However, some for-profit schools do not assess competence in speaking, writing or reading at a level that will enable a non-native speaker of English to be successful. An unfortunate consequence for many candidates for state licensing, governed by both Federal and State statutes, failure of the written exam or other assessment (conducted in English) is a costly lesson.

Yet there have been private as well as government-programs, online and various means to gain competence through ESL – English as a Second Language -adapted for various professions. While many businesses do cater to specific communities, staff who communicate primarily in a language other than English may have issues meeting Federal requirements for that institution. Meeting Federal guidelines at the workplace and successfully gaining employment requires comprehension at a fairly basic level. However, many private post-secondary education businesses attract students with lower fees and quick preparation for licensing exams. It may be outside their scope to add rigorous language preparation in their curriculum.

Ask the Chief: General orders of a sentry

One recent Sunday, my church congregation held an outdoor worship service at a community park to celebrate the relaxing of COVID precautions in our area. Two retired Navy Chiefs were asked to help with the set up of sound for the stage and facilitating our members to park their vehicles. I was one of these who coordinated parking, and assisted my Brother Chief (among retired Navy members a CPO is always a CPO) with setting up and afterward, tearing down and storing of the equipment. What made the day a bit hectic was the park was also the setting for the local Chaldean community celebrating the Easter season with family picnics, loud music and children running between the Chaldean festivities and our afternoon church service. Apparently, in an effort to maintain public safety (the parking lot was filled to capacity before our service arrived), the local police had set up traffic control into the park.

Wearing my HOPE “uniform” – a t-shirt that all our members recognize, I stood with the police at my “post” at the entrance to the park. Two other volunteers I asked to stand at the pedestrian entrances to the park to assist our congregants and their guests. We were walking our assigned post in a manner of speaking.

A casual conversation with one of the traffic control officers, a fellow Navy veteran, inspired today’s post, “General orders of a sentry”. Sadly, forty years after my recruit training, and eleven years since I was last in uniform, I had to review what those General Orders specifically stated. I could recall only the first two verbatim.

  • To take charge of this post and all government property in view.
  • To walk my post in a military manner, keeping always on the alert, and observing everything that takes place within sight or hearing.
  • To report all violations of orders I am instructed to enforce.
  • To repeat all calls from posts more distant from the guard house than my own.
  • To quit my post only when properly relieved.
  • To receive, obey, and pass on to the sentry who relieves me all orders from the Commanding Officer, Command Duty Officer, Officer of the Deck, and Officers and Petty Officers of the Watch only.
  • To talk to no one except in the line of duty.
  • To give the alarm in case of fire or disorder.
  • To call the Officer of the Deck in any case not covered by instructions.
  • To salute all officers and colors and standards not cased.
  • To be especially watchful at night and during the time for challenging, to challenge all persons on or near my post, and to allow no one to pass without proper authority.

On a warm and very pleasant afternoon, the service was conducted without incident. One elderly gentleman who had strayed off toward the Chaldean’s festival at one point was gently redirected to our community. And children who had likely decided a game of tag passing through our worship service were gently guided back toward their parents. A Navy Chief’s mission is still the same, even in retirement. Execute the mission.

Ask the Chief:Formula for success

The month of March is touted as a time to recognize achievements by women today and in history. In my social media feed, warriors, astronauts, authors and civic leaders are presented as outstanding examples and role models for their gender. I am married to one such as these, whose circumstances thirty-some years ago might have dictated a much different path had she not had the internal motivation and applied herself to becoming a Registered Nurse, then an educator, a program director and lastly, an entrepreneur. My interpretation of a formula to succeed in Life, has a lot to do with personal motivation and how much someone applies herself or himself to the task.

Results (R) equals Motivation (M) times Application (A), in a Skill (s) that is in demand, in a society.

Eric Saretsky

A story published by wearelatinlive.com that was distributed in my Facebook feed is one of these success stories that strikes me as representative of the possibilities that many, particularly in Government, act as not being possible by the majority in the United States. The story of Diana Trujillo, Director of Flight Operations for the Mars Perseverance Rover, speaks to a Latina immigrant from Columbia who came here, not speaking English, and with $300 in her pocket. Working as a cleaning women, she attended community college, then transferred to a university and became one of few women studying to become an aerospace engineer advancing to her position today.

CMDCM Barbier

Another story that was remarkable was a video interview published online by Mike Rowe. He interviewed a young lady, who is a highly-skilled specialty welder earning a six-figure income today. This young lady, with a passion for fancy eyelashes seen in the video, applied herself starting with a high school elective, after realizing that a teenager’s idea of a career in medicine was not really her goal. And there there are the examples of my female Shipmates from my years serving in the United States Navy. Two in particular have always reminded me of the formula I noted earlier in this post. One, a now-retired Admiral, Linnea Sommer-Weddington, began serving as an enlisted linguist, and after earning a college degree, received a commission. Twenty-five years later, facing a mid-career health situation, she had the tenacity to overcome it and through her leadership example, experience and skill, advanced in her career to Flag rank. It was her motivating those she lead to also reach their full potential that impacted the second female I am reminded. Navy Reserve Command Master Chief Kristie Barbier , I had the good fortune to serve alongside and lead for a time as the Senior Enlisted Leader for a Reserve unit that then-Commander Sommer-Weddington headed. Kristie’s expertise in her civilian occupation supported the Department of Defense. In her military role, ambition and skillset, she volunteered for service in the combat zone of Afghanistan. Through skills and exceptional leadership, she earned the highest Navy enlisted rank and serves as a Command Master Chief today. While this may sound extraordinary to many, there is one other caveat that makes these stories noteworthy. All of them were accomplished by females raising families or other ventures who shaped their circumstances – instead of being burdened by them.

RDML (Ret) Sommer-Weddington

As a veteran I have had the good fortune to work with people from every background and circumstance who volunteered for military service. Mentors and friends whose career success were shaped by application of a success formula whether or not they knew it as such. And in the civilian community, many with whom I have worked who strived to have the life they earned. Circumstances, from economic declines and health challenges, to worldwide pandemics will occur, but it is the ones who have skills that are continually needed who will thrive throughout. In my business today I see examples of civilian and veteran, men and women, young and older, immigrant and native-born, through exceptional work ethic and ambition, achieve certification. And sadly, I have witnessed those whose self-limiting formula delays their success.

In some I know, through my military experience and in my marriage, there is one other caveat that makes these stories noteworthy. Most of them were accomplished by females raising families; working while in training; in business with husbands or partners; or varying degrees of all of these. These are women who shaped their circumstances – instead of being burdened by them. And I have met men, immigrants, who have had skills, authority or respected careers in their home country who achieve competence in a new language and culture, and support their families working from the bottom upward, in a field that is in high demand.

value of “customer experience”

A website I found when writing this post, makes my point, “We believe in the business of experience”. Successful business, or more specifically, very successful businesses, value their customers. As a California small business in two niche markets, one of my enterprises serves a specific market of business to business services, and the other has a broader client base. Yet both sets of customers are looking for the same things from me. Competence, reliability, competitive pricing, and an excellent customer experience.

The value of serving a niche market is the relatively few competitors given the specialization required to service it. The challenge of servicing a niche market is both to continue to treat a client as though they had numerous choices for your service. And a niche market can become financially-stressed by bureaucracy as well as tough economic times as has occurred during this Pandemic. Our operations must maintain customer trust. In contrast, some companies fail to recognize changing needs of customers and the value of the customer experience. Montgomery Wards, Sears, and even General Motors stumbled and failed. Only GM returned to profitability.

Our business was built initially by personal recommendation to our first clients. It initially expanded due reputation of its founders and partners- consultants. However, the success and continued growth for these enterprises have been due largely to the customer experience. Having a willingness to listen to the needs of the client. Using current media and technical means to provide a quality first impression to attract customers. Influence the customer to not want to go elsewhere for service.

Ask the Chief: obtain credentials in the service

If I had the opportunity to mentor young Sailors just beginning their Navy career, I would counsel them to take advantage of every opportunity afforded them in the training the Navy provides. However, there are opportunities far beyond “A” school or specialization “C” schools, to develop natural talents and intellect. In fact, there are many opportunities to develop personally and professionally, only limited by the individual’s awareness of them. For decades the military has facilitated correspondence and on-base college classes offered for off-duty servicemembers. There is access to Tuition Assistance which many have used for off-duty education at local colleges. Recreational programs through MWR (Morale, Welfare and Recreation) offices have included SCUBA certification, rock climbing, auto mechanics and woodworking, with skilled mentors available. One of the longest associations for obtaining professional tradesman certification, is through Journeyman Apprenticeship in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Labor.

Credit by examination, correspondence courses, classroom work, and military training -equivalence credit have been accepted by many universities to obtain a college degree. This has facilitated motivated Sailors, Marines and other service members to advance in their military specialties. In the last twenty years, particularly since 2013, the rapid development of technology and the drive for a more qualified and educated service member, has brought about a watershed of opportunity for both enlisted military, commissioned officers and civilian employees of the Department of Defense. Through online resources access to education, credentialing, and licensure has meant that anyone can complete a military enlistment and return to the civilian workforce with qualifications that are immediately recognized by employers.

Through the United Service Military Apprenticeship Program (USMAP), ratings and occupational specialties have translated to civilian trades, by crediting work experience toward Journeyman certification. While I was aware of, and enrolled in, this credential program in 1989 – 1990, I took advantage of other education opportunities in place of becoming a Journeyman. At the same time that civilian trades people were seeing a decline in young people engaging in those occupations, by the second decade of the millennium, the military had seen significant growth in participation in an apprenticeship program. This was documented in a DOL study published in late 2015. Beginning in 2002 with the Army, all the service branches have embraced Credentialing Opportunities Online (COOL) to coordinate military and civilian employees of the respective branches becoming a more professional workforce. COOL does not offer accreditation but instead facilitates access to resources for individuals looking to pursue licenses and certifications in their respective occupations.

A future post will examine some of the best available college courses, though not for credit, yet available completely free of charge. These are available through a consortium of American universities, often delivered by online lecture with complete syllabi, notes and assignments.

the moral of this morale story

The following are excerpts from an article published on the USNI News webpage, 27 January 2021.

“The commander of a guided-missile destroyer was relieved of command after attempting to make a morale-boosting plaque from a captured weapon for his crew to celebrate the 2019 interdiction of an Iranian weapons shipment, an attorney representing the commander told USNI News on Wednesday.”

“Cmdr. Frank Azzarello was the commander of USS Forest Sherman (DDG-98) when the destroyer and a Coast Guard cutter interdicted an unmarked dhow in the North Arabian Sea on Nov. 25, 2019, Azzarello’s attorney Tim Parlatore told USNI News on Wednesday.”

“In a statement, the Navy says the relief is due to a loss of confidence in command by Rear Adm. Ryan Scholl, who commands Carrier Strike Group Eight. Cmdr. Greg Page, assigned to Afloat Training Group Atlantic, will assume duties as commanding officer.”

deckplate leadership?

The unanswered question in the article describing the Commanding Officer’s dismissal, is whether the senior enlisted leadership, comprising the Command Master Chief and the unit Chiefs Mess, made any objection or provided counsel to the Commanding Officer regarding the propriety, and violation of military regulations prior to the display being created.

As one of the roles of the CMC and Chiefs’ Mess, is to provide the Commanding Officer with any deficiencies in the command, were any objections raised to this plaque being created from a seized article? If not, this tends to put the Chiefs Mess, the traditional collective wisdom and decades of experience as deficient, at least aboard the USS Forest Sherman. Whether the Commanding Officer chose to disregard an objection raised by a member of the Chief’s Mess or the Wardroom, then the objection raised by the attorney is unsupportable. Since the military only conducts such contraband interdiction on the high seas in concert with the United States Coast Guard (Law Enforcement), the Commanding Officer was actually in violation of several standing regulations, when he authorized the display of an article from that seized shipment as a trophy. It is against military regulations and federal policy, to dispose, confiscate, or otherwise repurpose articles seized during military or law enforcement actions, without clear direction and lawful disposition.

oaths, rights and wrongs amended

I, (NAME), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.

In the United States of America the notion of an oath of fidelity, (faithfulness or allegiance) is not something suggested or required for most occupations. A half-century ago, as schoolchildren, we recited the Pledge of Allegiance before our first class every morning. As Boy Scouts, we recited its promise to obey God, do one’s best and uphold the Scout Law. Enlisting and re-enlisting in the military, members take the oath to support and defend the Constitution, to obey orders and military regulations. Federal employees as well as naturalized citizens take an oath to defend the principles of our founding document as well.

to the Constitution’s defense

Recent events involving people storming the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., were alarming. Even if unintentional, the misuse of his influence by a now-former President was not justified. He encouraged a demonstration that became mob mentality, Though citizens have the First Amendment right of peaceable assembly , to gather Trump’s emotionally-charged supporters around the Capital Building at the time of the certification of the Electoral College votes, was improper at best. But the undermining of faith in the Constitutional process sits squarely with Washington politicians and bureaucrats.

Government officials spent years unsuccessfully to determine if the 2016 election of Donald Trump was manipulated by foreign agents. In the prior eight years of President Obama’s presidency, his opposition, decried alleged misuse of Constitutional authority on many of his Administration’s policies, particularly “Obamacare”. Politics is normally unsavory, but there is ample evidence that journalists, bureaucrats, politicians and social media stoked the emotions of their respective constituents. They fostered suspicion that the Constitution was being usurped – either by one side’s “fascists” or the other’s “socialists”. The system functioned as intended however. With the election of President Biden and Vice-President Harris, the military has a new Commander-In-Chief and new civilian authority. Regulations and the UCMJ are still in effect. And the oaths men and women took to defend the Constitution and obey the orders of those in authority are still in effect.

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Reputation

Honor, Courage, and Commitment

Remarkable contributions are typically spawned by a passionate commitment to transcendent values such as beauty, truth, wisdom, justice, charity, fidelity, joy, courage and honor.

Gary Hamel, businessman b. 1954

In the Navy, Sailors are taught the value of Honor, Courage, and Commitment. These are not simply cherished values, they are the foundation of what will ultimately make an individual successful in Life. A person learns that Honor – both that which you earn personally and that which you hold in esteem, is fundamental to how one builds trust with others. In a biography, The Luckiest Man (Mark Salter), of the late Senator John McCain, he maintained his sense of honor as a POW in refusing special considerations during captivity (his late grandfather and father (during Vietnam) were Navy Flag officers). His Senate career, in pushing normalization of relations with Vietnam, on legislation over campaign financing, foreign relations and military matters, won praise even from the opposition party (including President Obama). A second tenet, courage, is not simply the quality of the fiercest warrior. Courage is being resolute, despite opposition in one’s moral convictions. Taking a stand in support of just principles (the freedoms guaranteed in the Bill of Rights), or doing the right thing in spite of opposition. When the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, commander’s crew were succumbing to COVID, and the Navy was slow to act, his convictions to get attention for his crew resulted in his reassignment (public opinion may have moderated the Pentagon’s decision-making). Think of the last year when police officers were collectively criticized and even attacked for the actions of a minority of officers nationally; some officers when ordered to confront protesters took a conciliatory knee to ease tensions. And commitment? A resolute, unwavering effort to follow through on a promise, mission, or task, in spite of difficulties or opposition. The example and legacy of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, who was in the forefront leading the way to obtain civil rights legislation, and at the cost of his life, exemplifies this.

building reputation

Repetition makes reputation and reputation makes customers.

Elizabeth Arden, businesswoman, d. 1966 (brainyquote)

Adding to these last, fidelity, passion for truth, and enjoying service to the public, build an enterprise’s reputation. In competition for business success, reputation attracts employees and customers. Successful companies such as Starbucks showcase this in their philosophy, and in their employees whether in Seoul, Korea or Charleston, South Carolina. Using the example of military basic training which I received in the 1970s, recruits are first screened to meet at a minimum certain qualities. Whether Navy, Marines, Army, Air Force or Coast Guard, recruit training shapes individuals into a team, and instill traits that distinguish military servicemembers from civilians. As they say in the Marines, you do not ‘join’ the Marines, they make Marines of those who thrive in the rigor of training, have the caliber of mental and physical stamina of warriors, and embrace the values that will make each an invaluable member of a “unit”.

fragile and easily damaged

It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.

Warren Buffett

Reputation, even when built through such a “crucible”, is fragile. It can easily be lost or damaged through public misperception, and errors in judgement from management or employees. In the last decade, the perception that businesses – or their employees – disparage lifestyle choices of a segment of the consumer public, whether or not . However, in the cases of Chik Fil -A restaurants, Hobby Lobby stores, a bakery in Colorado, and most recently, individuals whose participation in political violence (storming of the Congress), reputations were damaged as well as expense to defend these in court. In the latter, the “insurrectionists”, even if painted with a broad brush, when identified as employees or representatives of agencies or businesses, had to be swiftly terminated, and have public apologies issued by their employers. While some patronize a business because of some affinity, the businesses will eventually suffer from the scrutiny. Reputation is an asset for a business. As Elizabeth Arden, the cosmetics magnate of the last century said, “Repetition makes reputation and reputation makes customers.”

Ask the Chief: repurposed

I have a sign in our home office that says “I didn’t retire. I’m just under new management.”

Age wrinkles the body. Quitting wrinkles the soul

General Douglas MacArthur

“Retirement” once conjured up for me images of spending leisurely weeks on Hawaiian beaches, visiting foreign lands (this time with my spouse), or perhaps, spending time at a “vacation” home. However, the idea of having little else than “leisure” to occupy my time, just bothered me. I then wonder if others feel that being “unproductive”, that is “retired”, is shared by others? Changing careers frequently is a reality for many Millennials, Gen-X and now, Gen-Z workers. But a pandemic struck in early 2019 and “quarantine fatigue” is causing additional waves of infections and Governments to shut down commerce. The world has created a semi-retired class of people who do not have jobs to return or fill. Restaurants and many venues where large groups of customers formerly gathered have either folded or are barely surviving on government assistance. For those who “retired” in 2019, with few places in the world now COVID-free and open to visitors, there is little opportunity (or desire) to travel. However, with millions of people in need, experienced medical staff are welcome volunteers to man COVID testing and to administering vaccinations. For many others, the need is still present, but the delivery is changing. Teachers, small business coaches and consultants use web conferencing and social media to offer training. New opportunities in critical niche markets that are underserved are being filled by enterprising people. Elsewhere, retired military members become veteran advocates. Military-trained technicians start businesses to serve other businesses. I am certainly not unusual in starting a third career that interests me. I am not retired but instead “repurposed”.

Retirement is not in my vocabulary. They aren’t going to get rid of me that way.

Betty White

Is it time to head back to school?

This week’s Guest Post, is by blogger Kelli Brewer. Kelli is part of DeployCare, made up of veterans and their families which offers free support to service members and their families – she shares resources and solutions for issues commonly faced by military families before, during and after deployment. Please visit their website for additional articles on various topics of importance to veterans -Ed

Are you thinking about going back to school now that your time in service is done? If so, keep reading. Popeye To Admiral wants veterans and their families to have access to the best educational resources available. With this in mind, here are a few quick tips for vets set on earning a degree after their time in service.

Choose Wisely

When it’s time to go back to school, your first obligation is to choose an academic or vocational program. Be cautious here, however, because not all schools are G.I. Bill-approved. Furthermore, many schools suffer from accreditation complications, tarnished reputations, and few working graduates.

Aside from school, you’ll also want to take your time when making a decision on your major. There are many fields that make sense for veterans, including management and law enforcement. Another highly sought-after degree is information technology. Any of these — and many more — can be earned all or partially online. This is more important than ever in the pandemic society in which we live.

Start Small

Even if you are eligible for veteran funds, it might make sense to consider a community college for your first two years. Crucially, if you plan to use your G.I. Bill benefits for your children, many states now pay for an associate degree — meaning the funds may be used toward a graduate degree. U.S. News & World Report asserts that money is just one reason to consider a community college over a university when just starting out.

If you are not yet sure what you would like to do, you can also start off earning a certification. Taking a career aptitude test geared toward veterans can help you decide what type of job you would like in the civilian world. There are many options ranging from entry-level medical to business management.

Trade School Is An Option

Finally, keep in mind that you do not have to go to college to complete your education. You may also consider trade school to earn your HVAC or electrical license or ASE mechanic certification. Blue-collar jobs often pay as well as white-collar jobs, and some of them are even more lucrative.

For more information about going back to school, contact your institute of choice’s admissions counselor. Good luck in your endeavors, and thank you for your service.

Popeye To Admiral offers quips and quick bites of wisdom for veterans and their families. Visit the blog often for your daily dose of delectable posts and veteran resources. Let us know more of what sort of resources you might want to see. You can also find us on Facebook here, .

One Sailor’s view of American democracy

It might just be an inaccurate recollection on my part, but I recall someone saying life aboard a warship, (or by extension, life in any military branch, means the rights and freedoms- the democracy we defend for civilian Americans, is not really what we experience ourselves in uniform. A military system runs on rules and obedience to the “Chain of Command”. Committees, convoluted language in instructions, back-room deals, and courting favor of those lead seem ludicrous to a military mindset. Yet this is what precisely motivated sufficient numbers of Americans to elect an outsider, without experience and without an emotional or ‘decorum” filter, to the Presidency. To half the country this was a threat to our democracy that had to be opposed by any means. To the other half of the country, his election was in response to the callous indifference, inattention, and elitist behavior of legislators, courts, and supporting institutions to “working Americans”. For years each side has warned that the other is destroying the constitutional democracy that was established by our Founders in 1787.

What does “democracy” mean to any of us? Or “Constitutional republic”? Why do these terms stir up such passions between election winners and losers and each’s supporters in the United States? It may depend on your culture, knowledge of history, experience, education and political ideology. An article on democracy written eight years ago and an opinion piece in the New York Times, published in 2019, illustrate how American democracy might be characterized.

The Principles of American Democracy

Author Joel Hirsh, writing in The Huffington Post (April 2, 2012) reminds politicians and laypersons that understanding American democracy requires context. Asking the average person on the street what they understand ‘democracy’ to mean and you might get any number of misunderstood concepts. He writes that Abraham Lincoln described democracy as having no slaves nor masters. Mahatma Gandhi believed democracy could not be imposed but required an individual’s guiding principles to change government positively. Aristotle thought that equality for all came by everyone governed to be actively involved in governance.

The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.

Winston Churchill

The idea of representative government was to promote consensus among differing majorities in all the States and eliminate factions who might control Government to their benefit. As for the President, what the Founders envisioned in the Electoral College, the writer continues, was a system to obtain a competent and popular Executive that all the States could work with. Hirsh notes that America and democracy seem woven into our American identity. However, in the last half-century, what was once understood by every schoolchild devolved to slogans and bumper stickers. Today, we can add Twitter rants, Facebook memes, and street protests whose participants cannot attach context to nor define democracy. However, the entrenchment of career politicians, bureaucrats, and partisan media (social media and conglomerates) increase disenfranchised citizens. In the Huffington Post, Hirsh described five elements of democratic governance.

The first element is the mechanism of representative democracy. Hirsh goes on to describe how the term “direct democracy” came into being, where segments of a society unhappy with their elected leaders, “mob rule” he called it. These countries, like Venezuela, Ecuador, and Russia are run by strongmen who have “opportunities” for their citizens to participate in governance, but in practice tends to be only the well-connected and well-funded individuals and organizations that have access. However, he also applies this to groups and caucuses in the US, illustrating how some conservative groups exert more influence in certain areas and policies than others. But the progressive groups have exerted a great deal of controversial influence during their control of the Congress and the Executive, and in opposition, during the term of President Trump.

A second element to aid the citizens’ representative government, is a professional, non-partisan civil service that provide these services to the people. Hirsh states “Governments in unstable democracies all too often confuse and blur the lines dividing party, administration and state. This is bad for democracy. Activist governments attempting to socially engineer their citizenry using their civil service as partisan soldiers for their political project have been a serious cause of recent misery.” Depending on one’s political ideology, this might be applied to either Party. In recent memory, Americans have witnessed groups supporting tax reform described as hate groups, groups supporting legal immigration as racists, and social engineering particularly in gender and identity. Regardless of one’s opinion, the use of partisan bureaucrats, and the extraordinary focus of the House of Representatives to investigate a President, which revealed nothing substantive, after several years is a textbook illustration of Hirsh’s critique.

In a 2019 opinion piece published in the New York Times, Jamelle Bouie wrote about democracy envisioned by the Founders as flawed. The writer of the NYT opinion, states that the Founders feared popular rule, using the Greek interpretation of “democracy”, a classical Athenian model where a small minority of citizens govern, in person. This lead to the Founders to incorporate representation where the interests of all the citizens would devolve to a representative. In practice, representatives often represent the views of the more well-funded and connected constituents and business interests than the majority. This is often illustrated by career politicians, who still win reelection after 20, 30, or 40 years in government through well-funded campaigns.

Hirsh continued with the third element of American democracy: the principal of separation of powers. In the United States this means three separate but equal branches of government, each with a clear role and with an equal claim to legitimacy. The Congress makes the laws, the Supreme Court interprets them (with an eye on the Constitution), and the president implements them. But his criticism of a President exceeding his authority – issuing Executive Orders and statements, conflicts with history, in that every President since Washington has issued them. That the Congress funds the operation of government and legislates is often at odds when the Legislators manipulate legislation to include unrelated, pet projects, or refuse to deliberate on them- to thwart their political rivals. As for the Judiciary to decide whether legislation is in keeping with the Constitution, “bench activism” has replaced constitutionality in decisions.

Democracy gives every man the right to be his own oppressor.

James Russell Lowell, poet d. 1891

The fourth is the principal of limited government. This is something which, in 2020, neither political party representatives in Government pay lip service. This is at the center of much political tension in the United States. The author candidly states that the Government spends sums of money overseas to help foreign governments become more decentralized while in the USA, we become more bureaucratic and centralized. He pointed out that increasing federalization goes against the 10th Amendment of the Constitution, which says the States have responsibility for activity not expressly granted to the Federal Government (foreign policy, trade, war powers) .

The key to achieving a democracy that meets these elements successfully is a democracy built around a bill of rights, for every citizen that protects them from an overreaching government. Hirsh is correct in that he writes the American democracy has a foundation on a unwavering civil and political rights – “inalienable rights” — such as life, liberty, property, speech, assembly, religion, due process, and others. Other “rights”, such as the economic, social and cultural values, are all negotiations between free citizens as to what extent the Government provides them. He goes on to say, all inalienable rights compel duties from the federal government; and the duties these rights would compel directly interfere with the free market system as well as the bill of rights (such as the 10th amendment).

Dictatorship naturally arises out of democracy, and the most aggravated form of tyranny and slavery out of the most extreme liberty.

Plato

The American democracy, has to resist the demands of those who continue to press for change, for loose interpretation and re-interpretation of an “outdated” Constitution. The institutional changes brought about by today’s social engineering may upset a system that has function albeit with mistakes and failures for two centuries. In contrast, other countries have weakened, become unstable, or worse, succumb to despotic rule. The necessity instead is for all Americans to be better educated about local, state and national issues, economics, foreign policy, trade and the mechanics of government. When citizens fail to become even moderately involved in their own government, we get the representation we have permitted. To blame democracy, the Constitution, capitalism, or social injustice only serves to enable a strongman to step in – and disenfranchise opponents.

Education is a human right with immense power to transform. On its foundation rest the cornerstones of freedom, democracy and sustainable human development.

Kofi Anan, statesman (fmr UN Gen Secretary)